Vasilis Leonidou

Vasilis Leonidou

Interview to the award winning chef

Our acquaintance with chef Vasilis Leonidou in the city of Rethymno, in Crete, was to be a significant one, as it gave the initial impetus to a beautiful collaboration, which since then bears “delicious” and “aromatic” fruit.

Vasilis’s course outlines the profile of a charismatic man and professional, with a passion for his art and a vision that is constantly fueled by his imagination, courage and experiences. He was introduced to cooking by his mother, since his adolescence. The inherent need for progress in the field of gastronomy came early, as the idea of France as a world centre of gastronomy, came to the fore. However, his mother and life itself had completely different approaches, which delayed Vasilis’s involvement in professional cooking for several more years. He grew up in Agrinio, but was born and studied in Athens, graduating from the professional school Le Monde Edu. After his studies, he worked for a few years in Athens in various restaurants, until he decided to return to Agrinio, since the way of life in the capital did not fit his philosophy.

«While I knew about cooking, meaning the method, I knew nothing of the origin and role of its ingredients, neither about meat, nor fish or cheese, nor about olive oil. I did not even know the origin of salt!»

The next 5 years, in Agrinio, were decisive for his development, as he realized that while he was now a cook, he did not have sufficient knowledge about the ingredients he used in cooking.

He began to realize that the requirements for someone to grow and stand out in his field are mainly based on knowledge, namely the use of quality raw materials and their correct combination, as well as different cooking techniques to highlight the various ingredients and not abuse them.

Passing through various small restaurants, he had the good fortune to meet and be trained in traditional cooking and Greek products, which are still a source of inspiration and continuous development.

In 2009, he became systematically involved in wine tasting and through the internet he developed an interaction of creative inspiration with his audience.

Vasilis Leonidou profile picture

«I believe that chefs should first rely on knowledge and then create with imagination»

As for olive oil, his perception around it collapsed after tasting it as such. At a time when vinaigrette sauces were widely used by everyone, olive oil had lost its meaning as an ingredient in cooking. He began tasting olive oils from different varieties, foreign and domestic. In 2012 he attended a few tasting seminars in Greece and later in Italy where he was certified as Master and Sommelier of Olive Oil by the IRVEA Academy (International Olive Oil Academy – Lago di Garda, Italy). From then on, he established the Olive Oil bar in all the restaurants he worked for, while in their menu he included dishes where he combined different varieties of different olive oil labels from around the world, particularly Spain, Italy, Portugal but also Morocco and Croatia.

Since 2013, having permanently migrated to Rethymno in Crete, he was actively involved with the local olive oil producers and olive mills of the area and began to experiment in the olive extraction of the Tsounati variety, which led to the creation of the exclusive label, at the restaurant he worked at that time, where both the content and the bottle were of his own inspiration and implementation. His passion for traditional gastronomy but mainly the fact that Vasilis was self-made and fully trained in the evaluation of olive oil, from the creation of his own label to the delivery of olive oil tasting seminars, were the elements that attracted and fascinated the judges of the worldwide olive oil guide FLOS OLEI, giving him the 2017 award for “Best Executive Olive Oil Chef”. The recognition, beyond personal success, marked Greece’s contribution to the international promotion of the culture of high quality extra virgin olive oil.

Vasilis Leonidou profile picture Olive oil Bar

«Olive oil is the main ingredient in our kitchen and the choice of each variety plays a key role in the tasting result of a dish»

Τhe restaurants “Iliastra” in Agrinio and “Kapsaliana Village” of the homonymous hotel in Rethymnon, were the milestones in his professional career. Today, Vasilis is a member of the teaching team of the Grant Institute of Vocational Training in Rethymno, delivering lessons on the art of gastronomy, while at the same time he trains professional chefs in olive oil tasting and mainly in the sensory performance, namely how olive oil behaves as an ingredient in cooking.

At the same time, Vasilis Leonidou works as Executive Chef in the award-winning hotel and restaurant “AVLI”, with a 30 years’ long history, which is established in a complex of renovated Venetian houses in the old town of Rethymno. Guided by the promotion of the Cretan philosophy for well-being, the main component of which is nutrition, he delivers cooking lessons and olive oil tasting courses with labels and varieties from around the world.